Plus Ultra aims to provide communications infrastructure for incoming wave of moon missions

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BREMEN, Germany — Spanish-German company Plus Ultra Space Outposts is making moves to be the provider for essential communications and navigation infrastructure for upcoming moon missions.

The Spanish-German company signed a launch agreement late October with Germany startup Rocket Factory Augsburg to launch Plus Ultra’s first satellite. 

That mission, set to launch in the final quarter of 2023, would see the roughly 400-kilogram satellite sent into geosynchronous transfer orbit. The satellite will then use its own electric propulsion system to reach lunar orbit, arriving in place around six months later.

Plus Ultra COO Sebastian Ströhl told SpaceNews at the Space Tech Expo Europe in Bremen, Germany, that infrastructure for a new wave of lunar missions is crucial.

“There are more than 140 missions currently planned that are going to populate the moon within the next 10 years. So what is needed to go to and stay on the moon is, of course, infrastructure. One part is transportation, which obviously is quite well managed. But we see the second part as communication and navigation.” 

Plus Ultra’s Harmony constellation aims to provide greater coverage and data rates than those set out in requirements such as those in NASA’s LunaNet initiative, which seeks to put infrastructure in place, possibly using public-private partnerships, service contract arrangements and potentially multiple providers. 

“We’re talking about 100 megabits per user, we’re talking about global coverage, we are talking about a GPS-like navigation system,” says Ströhl. The goal would be to change communications and navigation from a carefully managed resource into an on-demand service that enables new capabilities.

The completed constellation would consist of eight satellites orbiting in two planes, at 6,000 kilometers above the lunar surface and using laser communications links. The first four satellites would already provide 80% coverage of the lunar surface. The completed constellation would provide 100% coverage.

“The aim is to give the upcoming industry the best infrastructure in order to accelerate and to get more big scientific or commercial outcomes.”

The construction of satellites would be left to a prime contractor. “We think that all the components needed for our satellite systems are there. We take the commercially available components and put together our system. We have this kind of experience on board, we have people that have worked on systems designed with satellite constellations that are up and running.”

The company was one of four finalists in the first stage of ESA’s Moonlight Initiative, which awarded two consortia, one led by Surrey Satellite Technology Ltd. (SSTL) and the other by Telespazio, with study contracts

Ströhl says Plus Ultra’s project has been fully bootstrapped, with a contribution from Luxembourg through the “Fit 4 Start” programme, and are working on a first venture capital funding round.

“We have done a preliminary design that closed in August, we have done a request for information from the industry that was closed in the beginning of November. We have received very good responses and we have all the necessary components we need.”

Challenges however lie ahead for reaching the first launch. Externally, the launcher for the first mission, Rocket Factory Augsburg’s RFA One, is aiming for a first flight in late 2022.